All The Hidden Pieces(9)

By: Jillian Thomadsen


John refused to look at the card. “I don’t know.”

“What letters are here?” Greta asked.

John shrugged but looked at her index finger. “T.”

“And what sound does ‘t’ make?”

“Ta-ta-ta.”

“Right. And what’s that letter?” She moved her index finger one centimeter over.

“That’s an O.”

“Right, and what sound does that make?”

His eyes searching, John gave her a blank look. “Aaah?” He conjectured. When he was able to read the response in her face, he gave a few other stabs. “Ih? Uh?”

“No, Johnny, it makes the sound oh or ah. Although in this case, ooh,” Greta said. She tried to mask her surprise, her mental revision of all the notes sent home in his backpack, trumpeting the class’s literary achievements.

“So what does this word say?” Greta pressed.

John stared down at the card and took a deep sigh. “It says ooooooh…”

“Johnny, the t comes before the o, so it should start with tttt…”

John ripped the card from her hands and threw it down. “I hate this stupid card!” he yelled, just loud enough to attract the attention of some parents at the periphery of the playground. He then ran several yards away from her and resumed his exercise of counting flora – tiny red berries dangling from the branches of a tree.

Greta picked up the shreds of the envelope and threw them into her bag, then opened up the card again and stared at the note she’d written. I love you to death!

To death…She hadn’t hesitated when writing the end of the sentence but now it seemed inappropriate, or even worse, a harbinger of some kind. Perhaps it was fitting for John not to finish the sentence; doing so would have undoubtedly brought about queries or nighttime anxieties. Greta exhaled sharply and tried to console herself. Maybe a different, more child-friendly set of words would have had a different result.

But no, that wasn’t really the problem. Greta knew the truth. It was a certainty that had been lingering in the back of her mind for a while, a query that John had just answered. Even if death was a word too advanced, too forbidden, too daunting for her kindergartener, he should have been able to sound out the word to.

Looking down at that short, seemingly innocuous sentence, Greta realized how John had been able to race through books so impeccably. He could adopt the right cadence, the right inflections, all the right words – while having no idea how to actually read. His memory was strong and sharp, and it could do its job after hearing words only one time.

Greta walked a few yards and found John’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Alice, administering a Band-aid to one of the kids on the playground. Alice was a young woman – perhaps just out of college or maybe closer to Greta’s age. She had dark hair, a slight build and a sweet smile.

“Hi Greta,” Alice said warmly, once the wounded child had recovered and returned to the playground.

Greta returned the greeting and then surprised herself with a litany of worries about John. She mentioned his difficulty getting along with other children, his inability to follow complex directions, his reluctance to write any letters, his lack of knowledge about vowel sounds and his most recent difficulty sounding out the word to. Most of these concerns Greta had never discussed with anyone – not even John’s father. They occupied a place in her mind along with terrorism, kidnappers and dangerous weather. Concerns that could run unrestricted if they weren’t checked, concerns that weren’t likely to be fully realized, that were products of an overactive imagination. Only talking to Miss Alice did Greta realize how strong her worries about John really were, and she was surprised by her fortitude even as she pressed his teacher.

Miss Alice responded with reassurance, summing up all of Greta’s fears into one word: developmental. All of John’s issues were perfectly age appropriate and he would grow out of them.

Greta left the conversation both optimistic and deflated. She hoped that everything Miss Alice said was true…but she couldn’t shake the notion that the teacher just wanted to enjoy her end-of-year picnic and be done with it all.